Winged friends add color and music to your garden

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

I used to think that a garden consisted only of plants. But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that a garden also included water features, structures, insects, amphibians, mammals and birds. In particular, birds add color, activity and music to your garden. In many cases, bird populations, looking for dinner, reduce insect pests.

One of the more popular birds that people try to attract to their garden is Eastern bluebirds. These birds until recently were scarce. Loss of habitat due to construction and land clearing reduced the number of natural sites for nesting. In addition, introduction of the house sparrow from Europe reduced Eastern bluebird populations. House sparrows are cavity nest builders and aggressively compete with the bluebird for nesting cavities.

The population of this beautiful bird is now increasing because homeowners are installing and maintaining bluebird boxes and providing bluebird feeding stations. If you want to add bluebirds to your garden, then follow the ensuing directions. You too can become a bluebird landlord.

First, you must provide proper boxes for your tenants and place them in the proper setting. Most bluebird boxes are made of cedar or exterior plywood. Do not use any treated wood. The bottom of the box should be at least 4 inches by 4 inches. The box should have a slanted roof to keep out rain. The box should be at least 12 inches tall. The entrance hole should be 2 1/8 inch in diameter and located about 1 inch from the roof. The box should have bottom drainage to let out any water and should also have air vent holes for escaping hot air.

The box also should open easily, so that you can monitor the contents of the box on an occasional basis. If you don't want to build a box, go to the local garden center that carries wild bird supplies and buy one there.

Your bluebird box should be placed on a pole or post about 5 feet high. Place a baffle under the box so that predators, such as snakes and raccoons, cannot reach the box. Your box should be placed in an open area such as a lawn. Do not place near a wooded area because wrens will compete with bluebirds for the boxes.

If you want more than one bluebird box, place them about 100 yards apart. Bluebirds are extremely territorial. Placing them any closer together will result in many unused nesting boxes.

The box should be oriented towards a tree or bush, yet away from prevailing winds. Bluebirds will use these plants to perch in while searching for food.

You also can increase the chances of attracting bluebirds to your garden by installing bluebird feeders. These feeders are designed so bluebirds will go into the feeder through a 2 1/8-inch hole and then feed. This feeder design discourages the use by other birds.

Bluebirds prefer insects for dinner. You can provide them with mealworms, available at your local garden center. Other bluebird feeds are also on the market. These specialty feeds can be used in addition to the mealworms to provide for your tenants.

If you have trouble getting bluebirds to your garden, place mealworms on the ground around your feeder and nesting box. In addition, place mealworms on top of the feeder and nesting boxes. This should help you attract bluebirds.

Most literature on bluebirds suggests that you have to have your boxes in place by early March before migrating birds move into your locale. Unless we have an extremely cold winter, bluebirds will often reside here throughout the entire year.

If you don't have your bluebird box up now, you are not too late. Eastern bluebirds will often produce two or three broods in this area during the season. If you don't get bluebird tenants in the spring, you could easily get them in the summer. While you are waiting for your tenants to arrive, make sure that you monitor any activity around the nesting box and remove any nests made by house sparrows or other unwanted birds.

With strategic placement of nesting boxes and feeders, you can have the addition of bluebirds to your landscape. They will provide color, entertainment and music that can't be beat. Happy bluebirding.


Got a gardening question? Send it to Paul Schnare, c/o Southeast Missourian, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699, or e-mail it to

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